Education Opinion

Do NOT open the test booklet!

By Katie Hanifin — May 19, 2009 1 min read
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What is learning? I mean, what do we REALLY know about it? I often joke with my principal that he should be able to enter my classroom, look around to survey the scene, and nod affirmatively, “Yes, learning has happened here.”

Unfortunately, while learning itself is innate, understanding how it works in a classroom is a complicated mash-up of pre-assessment, anticipatory sets, curriculum standards, and post-assessment. But what does learning look like naturally?

Well, first of all, it’s called cognition and it’s alarming how little we actually talk about cognitive research in classroom learning. Let’s take testing, for example. Educational policy continues to heighten the need for standardized testing, which often places the students in large, colorless halls, sitting in rows of complete silence awaiting a cue that permits them to begin to prove what they know about a certain subject.

While we continue to place our students in this confining environment, as well as place the bulk of our professional success in the subsequent results, we know that the brain’s amygdala takes over function in a threatening environment. That’s the processor at the base of the brain that determines “fight or flight”.

How often do students complain of forgetting all information when the test begins? What would happen if assessment was linked to sounder cognitive understanding and moved to a less brain-antagonistic environment?

A century of attempts at formalizing learning has created an artificial by-product that we confuse with real cognition. I’m not sure what you’d call it, but I don’t believe the regurgitation of data or facts demonstrates true understanding. That is not to say that core knowledge doesn’t have its place, but at what cost?

Let me ask you, what do you remember from your high school education?

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